Penn State arrived in southern California on Monday, leaving three full days for practices, film sessions, multiple sightseeing excursions and Thanksgiving dinner.
The Lady Lions will begin learning today if they used the time wisely.
Penn State opens the Radisson Chatsworth Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament at 5:30 p.m. against Detroit. The winner faces host Cal-State Northridge or South Alabama in Saturday’s final.
The travel schedule offered the team ample opportunities to adjust to the surroundings. Coach Coquese Washington even took the Lady Lions to Hollywood, where they visited Universal Studios and watched a filming of the NBC television sitcom “Whitney.”
The reason for the trip is succinct: Washington wanted California natives Gizelle Studevent and Candice Agee to play before familiar faces. Studevent, a senior guard, is from La Jolla, a coastal community 140 miles from Northridge. Agee, a freshman center, is from Victorville, an inland community 88 miles from Northridge.
“That’s a great benefit for Gizelle and Candice to play in front of their home fans,” Washington said. “That’s what we strove for when scheduled this.”
Studevent, Agee and eight other Lady Lions are bracing for unfamiliar opponents. The Lady Lions haven’t played Detroit (2-1) since 1981, which was nine years before Penn State’s oldest player was born. Penn State (3-0) has never faced Cal-State Northridge (2-1) or South Alabama (4-0).
Washington, like eight players on Detroit’s roster, is a Michigan native.
“They always have been a team that’s been pretty athletic,” she said. “They like to change defenses. They will play mostly man-to-man, but they will play a little bit of zone. They are an aggressive team. We have to be really focused on both ends of the floor. If they can turn you over and get you playing up-speed, that’s where they excel.”
Washington spent most of this week preparing her team for Detroit. Assistant coaches Fred Chmiel, Kia Damon and Maren Walseth are responsible for advance scouting the tournament’s other two teams.
“I’m focused on Detroit,” Washington said. “We’ll figure out South Alabama and Northridge on Saturday.”
The sixth-ranked Lady Lions are becoming a difficult group to slow. They crunched Lafayette 75-34 this past Sunday. All 10 players scored and played 10 or more minutes. The rout followed an impressive 63-58 road victory at nationally-ranked Texas A&M.
The fast start was partially expected. Penn State lost just one player, guard Zhaque Gray, from a team that went 26-7 and reached NCAA regional play last season.
“For the most part, I’m happy with where we are,” Washington said. “I say that because we are improving every game. We’re still finding ourselves and who the team is going to be this year. We lost Zhaque Gray, who was a fantastic 3-point shooter. We’re a different team, but overall I’m happy with where we are because of the improvement and growth I have seen every day.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.